Nancy Cowden, PhD

Associate Professor of Biology

Nancy Cowden


Degrees and Certifications

  • AB, Biology, Oberlin College, 1983
  • MS, Botany, Miami University, 1988
  • PhD, Botany, Miami University, 1993


  • Associate professor of Biology, Lynchburg College
  • Curator, Ramsey-Freer Herbarium, Lynchburg College
  • Assistant director, Westover Honors Society, Lynchburg College
  • Assistant professor of Biology, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College
  • Adjunct instructor of Biology, Southern Methodist University
  • Research assistant, Texas A&M University Research and Extension Service
  • Doctoral fellow, Systematic Botany, Miami University
  • Graduate research assistant, Botany, Miami University
  • Research assistant, Illinois State University

Teaching Areas

  • Introductory Biology (majors and non-majors)
  • Plant Blology
  • General Biology
  • Plant Ecology
  • Forestry

Professional Interests/Research

Deciphering how flowering plant species arise and maintain themselves as unique identities, even among their close relatives, intrigues me and provides my primary research focus. Much of my work centers on native, North American orchid species, documenting population-level genetic variation, demography, and understanding the roles of various agents of natural selection on the reproductive success of individual plants and the longevity of populations in which they are included. Because this work is wide-ranging both intellectually and geographically, field and laboratory investigations inform these studies. Mathematical modeling of populations, qualitative and quantitative chemical characterization of floral fragrance variations, documenting floral visitors and pollinators’ effectiveness, and other techniques enable me to develop a fuller picture of what it means to be a flowering plant species.

I also contribute to documenting the plant diversity of the eastern United States by investigating plant communities both from an ecological and a floristic perspective and curating the Ramsey-Freer Herbarium at Lynchburg College.

Selected examples of my work (asterisks indicate undergraduate contributors):

  • McDaniel, J.*, D. Moore*, P. Gannicott, and N. Cowden. 2012. Does the polyploidy derivative smell just as sweet: Rosa carolina and R. palustris. Botany 2012, Botanical Society of America Annual Conference, Columbus, OH.
  • Cowden, N. and P. Gannicott. 2011. We talk to the bees: Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens pollination biology insights. Botany 2011, Botanical Society of America Annual Conference, St. Louis, MO.
  • Cowden, N., J. Prinzinger, and M. Prinzinger*. 2009. A public choice model of environmental legislation: MTBE vs. ethanol. The Oxford Journal 8(1): 223-231.
  • Cowden, N.E. 2008. What is old is new again: teaching botany in the Linnaean tradition. Linnaeus’ Life and Sciences. Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.
  • Thurman, J.*, P. Gannicott, and N. Cowden. 2008. Alluring perfumes: floral fragrance investigations in Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. 2008 Native Orchid Conference Symposium, Morgantown, W.Va.
  • Cowden, N. and P. Gannicott. 2008. Floral Fragrance Variation and Reproductive Success in Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens Willd. (Large Yellow Lady’s-Slipper) Populations. American Orchid Society funded grant.
  • Cowden, N., B. Braun, J. Strang, and S. Whitehouse*. 2006. All wet: A town, gown, and beyond environmental learning collaborative. The Challenge of Engagement: The Third Annual University-Community Partnership Conference, Blacksburg, VA.

Professional Associations and Affiliations

  • Botanical Society of America
  • Association of Southeastern Biologists
  • American Society of Plant Taxonomists
  • The Society of Herbarium Curators
  • Southern Appalachian Botanical Society
  • Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society
  • Virginia Botanical Associates
  • International Society of Chemical Ecology